When ideas are conceived, sometimes the popularity of the concept far outweighs what was predicted. A recent example in the baseball card collecting world was the first Net 54 (a popular message board for primarily pre-war collectors) “set” break. The idea was to purchase a complete vintage set, sell ‘slots’ in the break, draw randomly and have some fun. The group there opted to break a 1954 Topps set, which means anyone buying in had a chance to get a Hank Aaron, Al Kaline or Ernie Banks rookie card plus any one of a number of Hall of Famers, for a buy in of $13 for one slot or $24 for two. On balance, the set was in about VG condition overall, with some cards lower grade and some better.
Within a 24 hour time period, all 250 slots were taken with a maximum of two slots per person. There are a lot of reasons why it worked, among them the price per card means even if you pull two commons, the risk is fairly minimal as commons book at $15 in ex/mt condition. In addition, the minimal risk of less than $25 for two cards is sure something almost all collectors can afford. Plus the transparency shown by organizers gave collectors a secure feeling as to a fair draw. All of that got the whole process completed (including shipping all packages) basically within a week.
There are some down sides. Since the sell-through was so fast, some collectors were shut out along the process and were very disappointed. In addition, for the person running the break, there is the sheer work involved in accurately mailing out over 125 packages in a very short time. In addition, I’m sure some collectors who win only the Tom Oliver and Leroy Wheat cards were upset that they did not win one of the myriad of better cards from the set break. However, as long as done honestly, what you get is what you get and most people understand that going in. I opted to participate and my draw of two cards produced a Jerry Lynch and Jim Delsing.
Even though this offer was a success for many reasons, what are other options that can be done for future set breaks? We discussed some of these options at a recent Dallas show.
The first was to leave the concept alone and although there is a bit of extra work for the breaker/shipper the concept as it is currently being done brings the biggest opportunity to the most collectors to receive good cards. While Net 54 forum owner Leon Luckey would prefer pre-war sets as that is the primary passion of most board members, the early 1950’s sets are well within what is considered the ending point for many posters. As proven, there is no shortage of collectors who appreciate the opportunity to purchase those early 1950’s cards.
One option Leon mentioned to me was to really make this more of a raffle and just select a grouping of pre-war cards with no guarantee collectors win any cards. I objected by saying in the modern case breaks you are just about guaranteed a card. With a complete set break, everyone is guaranteed a card and organizers avoid the possible backlash from collectors who don’t win in a raffle situation. I think we agreed the non-guaranteed raffle was probably not the best idea going forward but if collectors don’t mind having a chance to receive nothing, it would be a possibility at some point.
Another issue is the breaker/sender will be sending out all those packages in a short period of time. Another possibility is to reduce the number of slots to match the major league teams. Since in 1954 there were only 16 teams, one could use what case breakers do and have collectors be assigned random teams. Since this is a set break; one would have to choose the team randomly as just about everyone would choose the Milwaukee Braves in 1954 Topps so they could take home the Hank Aaron rookie card. This would be a higher cost per team (let’s say $200) and then the shipper would only have to mail out 16 packages. Now if you had the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers or Chicago Cubs, you would be very happy but if you ended up with the Philadelphia A’s or the Chicago White Sox you might not be as pleased with your end results. However, with many teams being winners overall this is not a bad solution to reduce the work for the breaker/shipper and still let the “lottery” aspect take over.
This aspect can also be used, especially if we start hitting the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Hey, breaking a 1972 Topps set with 787 cards is a bear but if you assign $100 per team and multi-team cards that is 25 total teams. We saw a set on eBay advertised at 95% ex/mt or better for $1150 with a small shipping cost. That comes out to about $45 per team. Because most teams have several high numbers and future Hall of Famers. a cost of $65 postpaid per team is not outrageous for either collectors or the breakers. And since each team should have several high numbers, the risk is reduced even if you have a team without future Hall of Famers such as the San Diego Padres or the Milwaukee Brewers. This way, again everyone who enters will receive cards.
Personally, I’m a big fan of this whole concept and hope to see this evolve and continue to be a success. To me, the concept of a set break is a great one and can appeal to many levels along the way and is especially good for most sets through the mid-1970’s.. What was interesting is when I explained to collectors at the local show, most of the collectors I spoke to who were in case breaks did not totally understand that a set break was card-by-card and not a team set break. The difference will have to be made clearer as well in future breaks.
What are your thoughts on set breaks?